Yet another U.S. police department is being reviewed after years of brutalizing and abusing the civil rights of Black people. The Columbus Division of Police in Ohio has caught the attention of the U.S. Justice Department, which agreed to review the department on Thursday.
NBC News reports the announcement came from the city’s Mayor Andrew J. Ginther, who made the request for the DOJ’s involvement following a number of fatal police shootings including those of Ma’Khia Bryant, Andre Hill and Casey Goodson Jr.
DOJ’s review is not focusing on one particular incident, policy or officer, NBC notes, even though the department has accrued a long list of shooting deaths in recent years. The police chief, Elaine Bryant, welcomes the opportunity to hold the department accountable.
From NBC News:
The chief said research and findings show the department needs to improve on several areas, including use of force, training, diversity, bias-based policing and de-escalation. The Justice Department’s review, however, will not be limited to just those areas, she said.
At a news conference in June when Bryant was named police chief, she said one of the main reasons she took the job was to help “service the community and this division,” but that goal cannot be reached without some help.
“This is not something we can do alone,” she said. “We have to be open to the possibility that we don’t have all the answers.”
ABC News reports that while the police chief may be on board with the mayor’s request, the DOJ was really called in because the rest of her department is not here for the accountability lesson.
Here’s a quick history of the fight to reform the department, from ABC:
In January, interim Chief Thomas Quinlan was forced out after Ginther said he had lost confidence in the chief’s ability to make needed changes to the department.
Before the recent police shootings, the city was sued over the 2016 shooting of Henry Green, a Black man, by two undercover white police officers working in an anti-crime summer initiative.
Later in the same year, a white officer fatally shot 13-year-old Tyre King, who was Black, during a robbery investigation.
Records show that Black residents, about 28% of the Columbus population, accounted for about half of all uses of police force from 2015 through 2019.
The agency — like many big-city departments — is juggling calls for internal change even as it battles street violence. Columbus saw a record 174 homicides in 2020 and has recorded 143 so far this year, a figure not reached until mid-November last year.
In 1999, the Justice Department sued the city, accusing officers of routinely violating people’s civil rights through illegal searches, false arrests and excessive force. A year later, the government added a racial profiling complaint, alleging that from 1994 to 1999, Black people in Columbus were almost three times as likely as whites to be the subject of traffic stops in which one or more tickets were issued.
A federal judge in 2002 dismissed the lawsuit after the city, which had fought it, made changes on the use of police force and handling of complaints against officers.
The Root also reported earlier this summer that three Columbus officers have already been charged with dereliction of duty in an ongoing investigation by the city into the department’s actions during the Black Lives Matter protests last year. Two of those officers are also facing charges of assault and interfering with civil rights.
Advocates, according to ABC, feel as though the review should have been an investigation into the department’s long history of police brutality.
Sean Walton, who is an attorney for the families of several Black people fatally shot by Columbus police as well as a member of the Columbus Police Accountability Project, told ABC that Ginther requesting a review was “a slap in the face to the people he claims to serve, and is yet another frustrating example of politics as usual in Columbus.”
Walton states that he wished Ginther called for a pattern and practices investigation, which would have highlighted the abusive history in the department.
The review will be done by the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services, and ABC reports that it will include looking at officer training and recruitment, assisting in areas of diversity, technology, and creating an early intervention system for officers.